Nitrous Oxide: Safe Option for Labor

Nitrous Oxide: Safe Option for Labor
Bringing a baby into the world is an exhilarating experience, but it doesn’t come free of worry, perhaps most especially regarding labor pain. The good news is, moms-to-be who choose Holland Hospital’s Boven Birth Center for their delivery have access to an additional convenient and safe comfort option: nitrous oxide. 

While nitrous oxide (aka “laughing gas”) was once commonplace in U.S. hospitals, over time it was largely replaced by the epidural. Today, that trend is showing signs of change, thanks in part to more expectant women seeking less-invasive options for pain relief. 

So if you’re expecting, could nitrous oxide be right for you? Rachelle Nauta, RN, BSN, at the Boven Birth Center, provides answers to some frequently asked questions: 

What is nitrous oxide?

Nitrous oxide for labor is a blend of 50 percent nitrous oxide and 50 percent oxygen that’s inhaled through a mask. It is administered at a lower rate than what’s typical in a dentist office (the ratio during a dental procedure can reach up to 70 percent). When nitrous oxide is used for labor, a woman also controls when she inhales the gas.

Is nitrous oxide safe?

Efficacy is still being studied in the U.S., but nitrous oxide’s popularity is growing. A review published in the Journal of Midwifery and Women’s Health revealed it to be a reliable epidural alternative. The American Pregnancy Association and Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses also view it as a safe option. 

How does nitrous oxide help during labor?

Nitrous oxide helps lower anxiety and allows patients to relax. It doesn’t remove all pain, but women report that nitrous oxide “takes the edge off,” making them feel less tense and less aware of pain during contractions.

Who will administer the nitrous oxide?

You will hold the mask and remain in control of how often you breathe in the nitrous oxide. Your labor nurse will teach you to breathe into the mask when a contraction is starting and until it goes away.

Does nitrous oxide affect babies?

Based on research, there are no known effects to babies. In fact, use of nitrous oxide for labor pain has been widely practiced in Europe, Canada and Australia for many years.

Does nitrous oxide affect my contractions?

Although you may perceive your contractions differently, nitrous oxide doesn’t impact their strength or frequency. 

How will I feel when using nitrous oxide?

Peak effect takes 30 to 60 seconds. Each patient has a different experience when using nitrous oxide, but most simply feel relaxed. Some women might feel sleepy or light-headed. These feelings disappear after taking a few breaths without the mask.

Where can I learn more?

Talk to your OB/GYN, nurse or nurse midwife about the use of nitrous oxide, during an early appointment if possible. Nitrous oxide may not be recommended for some women with very low blood pressure or vitamin B12 deficiencies. 

When it comes to your birth experience, our labor and delivery nurses are by your side, focused on you, your baby and a safe, comfortable delivery. Click here for information about birthing classes or to schedule a tour of Holland Hospital's Boven Birth Center.  Back  
  • Rachelle Nauta, RN, BSN

    Rachelle Nauta, RN, BSN

    Rachelle Nauta is a labor & delivery nurse and part of the education team at Holland Hospital’s Boven Birth Center. She is passionate about providing women with the education and resources they need to have an empowering birth experience. 

    Rachelle & her husband have two small children, both born at the Boven Birth Center. In her free time she enjoys cooking, working in her garden and spending time with friends and family.

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